DISCLAIMER: I am not a health professional. I’m just a mom who has two babies, and I’m here to share my experience and my thoughts. Please see my full disclaimer for more details.
Breastfeeding is DIFFICULT. Like really super hard.
I had always thought that breastfeeding is one of the most natural things. Honestly, what is more natural than a mother feeding her baby?
But let me tell you, it really didn’t feel natural to me at all. On the contrary, breastfeeding was one of the most challenging things about having a newborn, and it was hard work for the first few weeks.
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Fed Baby is Best
Let’s start off by saying, there are numerous studies on the benefits of breastfeeding for both the mom and baby. It is nutritious for baby, and has many health benefits for mom, and also can be a great bonding experience.
However, there are varying reasons why a baby can also be formula-fed. And that is totally fine.
I feel like over the past few years, I’ve seen a lot of judgment on both parties: pro-breastfeeding and pro-bottle feeding. And I dislike that!
It’s really up to the mom and the baby to decide what works for them.
All that to say: fed baby is best.
My Breastfeeding Journey: With My First Son
With my first son, I nursed him for 6 months but supplemented with formula the whole time. I felt an incredible amount of guilt that I wasn’t able to exclusively breastfeed.
Looking back, I see that there are many factors that played into me not being able to exclusively breastfeed.
Factor 1: I think part of it was that I had no idea how difficult breastfeeding would be. My mom had always made it sound easy, and I didn’t have many friends who had experienced it to tell me anything about it. And even the breastfeeding classes that I had taken before having my son, hadn’t mentioned the true challenge that breastfeeding could be.
Factor 2: My son was born borderline premature (born at 36 weeks and 6 days). So that might’ve had something to do with it.
Factor 3: The hospital that we were at didn’t have a lactation consultant. While the nurses were trained in breastfeeding, I don’t think it was quite the same as having a lactation consultant.
Factor 4: My son had elevated bilirubin levels (aka jaundice), and had to be readmitted into the NICU for UV light therapy. While he was there, the nurses did not encourage me to nurse him, since they kept saying that I wasn’t producing enough, he was fed formula the whole time.
Factor 5: Lastly, we also found out when my son was 2 (at his first dentist appointment) that he actually has a tongue-tie. I will discuss this a bit more later in the post. But that might also have been another reason why it was so difficult for him to latch properly.
While all these factors are legitimate reasons that led to me having to supplement with formula, I still felt so guilty and almost like a failure at times. Even though my first son is super healthy, and I can’t see many adverse affects of feeding him formula, I still sometimes do feel the guilt.
Things I Did Differently With My Second Son
Since I felt like I “failed” at breastfeeding the first time, I was determined to succeed the second time around. Here are some of the things I did the second time around.
And by taking these steps, I was able to exclusively breastfeed my second son for 6 months, and continued nursing him for a total of 14 months!
Educate and Prepare
I prepared myself with more education. Although I didn’t sign up for any paid classes, I did watch numerous videos, and read through many blogs/websites on breastfeeding.
I checked with our hospital if there would be a lactation consultant, and thankfully this time they did have one! So I knew that I could get some help while I was at the hospital the first couple days.
While I was determined to “be better” at breastfeeding this time, I also prepared my heart for if things didn’t go as planned. I was more emotionally ready if I had to supplement with formula again.
In addition to this, I also had a group of mom friends that I was able to share my breastfeeding struggles with. They validated how I felt about my first breastfeeding journey, and they shared tips from their own experiences.
Before I had my second son, they threw me a surprise mini baby shower, where they prayed for my struggles and also spoke life-giving encouraging words that helped me feel like I could do this!
And I knew that I could share with them if I did struggle to breastfeed again.
Set Goals, But Be Realistic
I think it’s always good to have a goal, but also being realistic about the goal. My goal for my second son was to try to exclusively breastfeed for the first 3 months, and breastfeed for a total of 6 months.
But I was also going in with an open mind. And it was going to be ok if I couldn’t meet this goal.
Colostrum is the first liquid “milk” that comes out at the beginning. It’s supposed to be extremely nutritious for the baby. But know that there will NOT be lots of it. And don’t be upset if you don’t see your boobs overflowing with it.
When Milk Comes In
It usually takes a couple days for the milk to actually come in.
I don’t know if this is how it is for everyone, but for me, the days when the milk starts to come in is HELL. My boobs were engorged and felt really hard to the touch and warm.
I used these cooling pads that I put in the freezer for a bit, and they helped immensely. (Thankfully, I remembered how horrible it was the first time, and I had them ready go.) These were seriously a life saver.
Nipple Balm Can Save You
Speaking of life savers, nipple balm was essential for me during the first couple weeks. I used this natural nipple butter that was extremely soothing, and since it was natural ingredients, I felt at ease about my baby ingesting it.
I put it on after each nursing session, and it kept my nipples from getting cracked.
“Grab Your Boob Like a Taco”
This is what the lactation consultant kept saying to me when I was trying to get a good latch.
She used this analogy of eating a taco or a burger. When you’re putting a taco into your mouth, you don’t hold it vertically–it won’t fit. You hold it horizontal, or parallel to you mouth so you can take a big bite.
My lactation consultant said to grab my boob parallel to the baby’s mouth so that when he opens his mouth, he can take a “big bite” and get a good latch.
Get Baby Level to Your Breasts
The other thing I learned from my lactation consultant is to get baby level to your boobs. Especially at the beginning, when you’re still recovering from labor and delivery, it’s helpful to use pillows to prop your baby up so that you don’t have to use your arms to lift your baby the whole time.
Or you could try a different position like lying down on your side and nursing.
As stressful and tiring breastfeeding can be, it helps to relax. If you’re tense, baby also senses that, and it can affect the overall feel of breastfeeding. Take a deep breath and remind yourself that you can do this!
Supportive Hospital Staff
As mentioned earlier, my first son had jaundice and he had to be readmitted to the NICU, and the nursing staff at that hospital didn’t encourage breastfeeding during that time. I still remember the lead nurse telling me that I should’ve started feeding my son formula at least 24 hours before he needed UV treatment.
It felt like I was being scolded for trying my best to breastfeed. I was a first-time mom, and the things she said really made me second-guess all my mom instincts. I felt HORRIBLE, and I cried a lot during that time.
Well, my second son also had jaundice and similarly had to be readmitted to the hospital and stay at the NICU for UV treatment as well. But the nursing staff at that hospital really encouraged breastfeeding and told me that I could stop by at any time to nurse him. They asked me to bring in any pumped breastmilk from home, and also had a pumping room on the same floor where I could pump while I was there.
The support there was completely different and it made a HUGE difference!
That’s where I also learned about power-pumping. A nurse there told me that power-pumping could work to boost milk supply.
Essentially, it’s pumping to a schedule for about an hour. There are different schedules you can look up online.
For example, you could pump for 20 minutes then take a 10 minute break, then pump again for 10 minutes, and then take a break for 10 minutes, and then pump again for 10 minutes.
This is a LOT of work and commitment. It’s not easy sitting and pumping while timing it all right. However, I did try it out a couple days while my second son was in the hospital. And I think it did help boost or at least maintain my supply because I wasn’t able to nurse him as much as I would have if he weren’t in the hospital.
Don’t Get Caught Up in Numbers
The thing about breastfeeding is that unlike formula feeding, you don’t know exactly how much the baby is getting. Even if you pump, you won’t get exactly the same amount as when you’re directly nursing your baby. As hard as it is, try NOT to get obsessed with the numbers if you do pump.
However, do make sure your baby is peeing and pooping throughout the day. Since that indicates whether or not they are getting enough intake.
Know that it’s totally normal for babies to lose some weight during the first few days, but if they are getting enough, they should start gaining some weight again soon. Doctors and nurses do monitor weight very closely toward the beginning, so they should let you know if there’s anything to be concerned about.
I mentioned this in my Fourth Trimester Essentials post but I think this was really important in boosting my supply.
I had tried taking fenugreek with my first son, but it didn’t make much of a difference.
One of the nurses at the NICU told me about supplements from Legendairy Milk because she also took them when she was nursing her baby. (See the support here?)
So I gave it a try, and I’m so glad I did! I tried a few different ones, but I liked the Liquid Gold the best.
Beware of Mastitis
Before I had mastitis, I didn’t even know what it was. 2-3 weeks after I had my first son, I started feeling achy, had a fever, my head was pounding, and my boob was on fire. And I also had a little lump on the side of my breast.
It totally freaked me out. I felt miserable for a couple days, and I remember that started on a Friday, so I couldn’t get an appointment until the next week. Thankfully, we have a doctor friend who we reached out to, and he was able to prescribe an antibiotic for me. And that cleared it up.
I did also use a hot towel on my breast to try to alleviate the pain. I would also massage the lump on my breast while taking a hot shower.
Honestly, this was one of the most terrible things I experienced. And I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.
So, I was prepared to avoid mastitis at all costs. A mom friend told me about a supplement called lecithin.
Mastitis is an infection that is usually caused my a clogged duct in the breast. Lecithin helps with the flow of breastmilk and helps prevent clogged ducts. I also made sure to massage my breasts everyday while in the shower, and check for lumps.
I mentioned above that my first son had tongue-tie and we didn’t even know he had a tongue-tie until his first dentist checkup when he was 2 years old.
With my second son, our pediatrician noticed right away that he had a tongue-tie. And checked with me if I had problems nursing. Because apparently it is common for tongue-tied babies to have more difficulty latching. And it can also lead to the mom’s nipples really suffering due to the poor latch.
I had no idea! But it makes so much sense why I had so much difficulty with my first son.
She did mention that if we continued to have trouble, we could look into getting a procedure done to clip the flap under the tongue to “undo” the tongue-tie. But thankfully, my second son didn’t need that procedure.
I think it is good to know in advance that tongue-ties can affect nursing, and to check your baby to see if they have a tongue-tie or not.
Reach Out For Help If Needed
There are many professional lactation consultants out there! There is no shame in getting help if you feel like you will benefit from it.
I also found it really helpful to have a female pediatrician who was also a mom. So at checkups for my son, she would also make sure that I was taking care of myself. She had gone through the whole breastfeeding experience so she was able to give me reassurance and encouragement while also giving legit medical advice as well.
Take Care of Your Mental Health
Which brings me to this next point: take care of your mental and emotional health. Our pediatrician told me that if breastfeeding my baby was going to be so stressful that I was going to be in an unhealthy mental state, that was just not worth it. Even though breastmilk is nutritious and healthy for the baby’s development, if I wasn’t able to be there for my baby and my toddler, the tradeoff wasn’t worth it.
She also did say that breastfeeding the first month is the most beneficial for the baby. And for the first 3 months is also really great. And of course if you can breastfeed for 6 months, that is also great. But she said that after that, studies don’t show are huge difference in formula-fed or breastfed babies.
I don’t know if what she said is in line with all the other scientific data and studies out there, but since she’s a doctor, I took her word for it.
And I think what she said was very true. It’s important for us moms to take care of our mental and emotional health. If I was going to lose my mind over trying to “successfully” breastfeed and I wasn’t present for my toddler and couldn’t take care of my baby properly, what was the point of everything?
Once your milk comes in, it is pretty common to leak. Especially when I was nursing from one side, I could feel my other side leaking a little. And also, when we started going longer stretches at night, I would also leak.
These nursing pads helped so much. I’ve also tried some other brands, but I liked these ones from Lansinoh the best.
I’ve mentioned this in several of my other posts, but I thought these nursing bras were really great and affordable.
They are supportive without being restrictive and very comfortable.
The Hunger Is REAL
I know some moms try to lose their pregnancy weight after they have their baby. Whereas I would have also loved to do that as well, I was STARVING all the time. I ate so much while I was breastfeeding. Way more than during my pregnancies. Like probably double the amount my husband ate. It’s seriously a hunger I’ve never felt before.
I know breastfeeding burns a lot of calories, and that may have been why I was so hungry, but I just could not stop eating…Which brings me to the next point.
Weight Might Not “Melt Right Off”
Some moms almost instantly lose all their baby weight through exclusively breastfeeding, but that wasn’t the case for me. Maybe it’s because I was eating so much but, I kept about 5 pounds from each of my pregnancies. So I’m probably about 10 pounds heavier than my pre-pregnancy weight.
I’m still working on embracing my “mom bod”, but that is a topic for another post.
My Overall Thoughts
I feel really happy and proud for meeting my goals and even going beyond the goals that I had originally set. And overall, I think that exclusively breastfeeding was a wonderful experience.
However, I do think back to my first breastfeeding journey, and think about the guilt that I felt back then (and sometimes feel now). And I keep reminding myself that I did my best and not being able to exclusively breastfeed does not determine my ability as a mom.
And I want to end by saying, yes breastfeeding can be super important. But it can also be super difficult. Educate and prepare yourself, find a strong support system, set goals, and work at achieving them. But if you don’t meet those goals, that is also okay.
Take care of your mental and emotional health. Because at the end of the day, kids don’t remember if they were breastfed or not. They remember if their mom was there for them or not.
I hope this post was informative and helpful! Best wishes on your breastfeeding journey!
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